How One Man Went from Weighing 534 Lbs. to Being an Instagram Fitness Influencer
Dustin Hall had weight loss surgery, found a meal plan and exercise regimen he can stick to, and lost 317 lbs.
At his heaviest weight of 534 lbs., Dustin Hall couldn’t even bend down to tie his shoes or walk 100 feet without having to sit down, much less manage his day-to-day responsibilities as a full-time auto appraiser.
“I had to work very hard to get my job done in a modified way,” Hall, 36, tells PEOPLE. “A lot of what my job involves is getting underneath the vehicle to see the extent of damage, which I couldn’t do. I had to use a selfie stick to take pictures of it.”
Hall, who now weighs 217 lbs., says he was overweight most of his life. He was pre-diabetic and often experienced scary sleep apnea symptoms as a result.
“Everyday things were very tasking for me. Just bending over would make me start sweating,” Hall, 36, tells PEOPLE. “I had attempted what felt like thousands of failed diets over the years. But at the end of the day, food was an addiction for me. It was how I dealt with stress and emotions.”
In 2016, Hall underwent gastric bypass surgery because his health was at a “tipping point,” he says. He knew it wouldn’t solve his emotional or mental dependence on food, but Hall says he saw it as an opportunity to take back control of his life.
“I made a commitment to my wife that if I was going to take this step and have the weight loss surgery, then I was going to take it seriously,” he tells PEOPLE. “I’ve since lost 317 lbs.”
Two-and-a-half years after surgery, thanks to a consistent workout routine and a high protein, low carb diet, Hall is a healthy 217 lbs. and a fitness influencer with over 41,000 followers.
About a year ago, he started documenting his weight loss journey on Instagram, sharing inspirational messages alongside impressive before and after pictures. Before long, strangers were reaching out to congratulate Hall on his physical transformation and thank him for being a source of motivation.
I’m not a health coach and I’m not a personal trainer, so I’m very careful on not giving any kind of, this is what you should do,” he explains. “But this is what I did on my journey, so if it helps you, awesome!”
For Hall, a key part of weight-loss has been developing a healthy relationship with food without depriving himself of the meals he enjoys. He uses a pre-made meal service called Real Good Foods — which offers grain-free, gluten-free and all-natural versions of foods like sausage, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches, chicken parmesan and, most importantly for Hall — cauliflower crust pizza.
“My last cheat meal was a cheeseburger pizza and a two-liter soda. I made it really dramatic, like ‘Okay, this is the last thing I’m going to have for three centuries’,” he joked. “And then about six months into my [weight-loss] journey, I found out that there was a high protein, low carb version of what I had been eating before: pizza.”
“I don’t think I can convey the excitement I felt,” Hall said with a laugh. “All of the sudden, I found something that brought back balance to my diet because I could stick to my high protein, low carb, while incorporating something that I enjoy, like pizza.”
Previously a cheat meal would quickly turn into a cheat day, which turned into a cheat week and then a cheat month. “Then six months later I’d gained double the weight back,” he tells PEOPLE. “I was subconsciously treating diets as torture.”
Even when he would lose weight while following a fad diet, Hall says he would never “mentally” lose the weight — “I was still the same person…I felt like my body was almost trying to protect me against diets.”
So to break the cycle, he ate balanced meals that didn’t make him feel deprived of the foods he loves. He also used exercise, instead of binge eating, to channel his emotions.
“If I have a stressful day at work, I’m not looking for food to bring relief, but I’m going to the gym, I’m going for a walk or getting involved in some sort of activity to get rid of the stress,” Hall says.